By Joanna Delalande
‘No matter how far you’ve gone, you can come back’, says former dealer turned drug educator
As a witness of domestic violence, Tony Hoang grew up an angry child in a drug-filled town.
This anger led to over eight years of drug addiction, crime, and violence.
"My earliest memory, going back when I was five or six years old, is of being in my room with my mother and my sisters. [My mother] was crying after my father had just beaten her... I remember feeling a frustration and rage in my heart," Tony says.
Now a happily married father of four, Tony is all smiles as he says: "My relationship with my father has been restored... My relationship with people has been restored – I speak to strangers on the street like they're my best friends. I have love in my heart."
But that love was not always there.
In his younger years Tony was full of hatred and distrust, and the rage he felt towards his father saw him joining a heroin-dealing gang where he thought he had finally found his true family.
With money and a newfound sense of belonging Tony thought he was happy.
"I didn't think about consequences. I just thought: 'this is my new family. These are the guys that love me'. And so, because of that, I did what was asked."
No one visited 14-year-old Tony after being arrested for dealing drugs, which only led to more anger and disappointment
Upon his release he knew he had a choice to either return to school or to continue dealing.
"I made a dumb choice," Tony says, "and I continued dealing drugs for eight years of my life."
With the dealing came addiction and more violence, until he was looking down the barrel of a gun and running for his life as the bullets miraculously missed his body.
In this time he lost 13 of his friends and family, six of whom were murdered.
Tony recalls that he felt dead inside and could no longer stand the life he was living.
In a last act of desperation, he visited the church he attended as a child. He began to weep in the knowledge that if God were real He would be the only person to know all he had gone through.
"I said, 'God, if you died for me to live like this then I don't want to live. I'm at the end of myself'. So with tears running down my face I asked Him to please give me a sign."
The very next day, walking through town, Tony was drawn to a church group playing R&B music on the sidewalk.
As he approached them, one of the members handed him a flyer that read: "If you are looking for a sign from God, here it is."
"I was amazed," Tony says. "I took that flyer and I was in awe of what I saw. I sat there and I listened to this guy tell me about the Gospel, about how Jesus came and died for my sins; things I knew in my head but didn't know in my heart.
"Right there on the street he asked me to pray, to ask God for a new life, to forgive me of my [wrongdoings]. So I did that," Tony smiles. "On the eighth of February 2004, I said that prayer that changed my whole life."
Tony asked the Lord into his heart to change him and make him new, and he says in that moment, in the middle of a street where he was known as a heroin dealer, he burst into tears of joy and restoration.
Not everything was smooth sailing from then on. "It was hard for me to put that life away," Tony explains. "For eight, nine years of my life this was all I knew. It didn't happen overnight; I had to make some very difficult choices.
"But having come to Christ and knowing what He went through for me, I decided to make those choices, and today I'm clean. I'm free," he laughs.
"I'm so free, you can lock me up today and I'll still be free."
Today, Tony is a chaplain, youth worker, and pastor who aims to help young people avoid the life of addiction and crime he led for so long.
"I want them to know that it doesn't matter how far down that road you've gone, you can always come back," he says. •